Eddie Island Discusses His New Album Folkstar and American Idol | Interview
The former American Idol contestant discusses his journey, fame and his new album, ‘Folkstar.’
As a break from the NYFF coverage, I’m excited to finally share an interview I did with former American Idol contestant, Eddie Island, that I did last month. Island — whose new album Folkstar is available to stream now — was so generous with his time and it turns out that we related on a number of things.
In this interview, Island discusses the American Idol experience, pivoting into the spotlight, some of the inspirations of his songs and more.
Thank you to Planetary Group for organizing this great interview and to Island for all of his time.
Coastal House Media: It’s a pleasure to meet you and I’m very excited to talk to you. I have to ask one question about American Idol; can you give me one tidbit about something that we wouldn’t know unless we were on the show?
Eddie Island: I would say just the time that the show is [filmed] over; it was like a year-and-a-half, two years of a process from initially auditioning to flying out and filming the segments. The pre-tape was my favorite part. I loved the live show, glad I had the experience, [but] it was a lot more stressful, but I think there’s a lot that goes into it. I think the second piece of that is [that] you’re not really paid [as] I’ve never been paid by [American] Idol. I had stipends for food and stuff, but everything was like me going to thrift stores and wearing my clothes and figuring it out.
CHM: Wow, I would not have known that.
Island: You have to pivot, man. People think I have a tour bus and a million dollars and it’s like, “No.” It’s definitely a challenge and I think I’ve conquered it, but it’s a rare thing to kind of pivot from American Idol into an actual career, I think.
CHM: Basic question, but do you have any inspirations that inspired you to do music?
Island: Yeah, I really love Nathaniel Rateliff — he’s a folk artist. I saw him playing in his RV years ago. My friend gave me a vinyl of his song “Shroud” and hearing him sing and kind of just whaling on the guitar really inspired me. Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” When I first saw that video, it kind of inspired me to go into the “acoustic” kind of singer-songwriter [path] like I wanted to be the folk man that could just walk up there with a guitar and play. Those are big inspirations.
I mean like a lot of artists, man. André 3000, Childish Gambino — I like a lot of rap music. It’s similar to folk in a way where it’s just like honest storytelling and [are] like the “voice of the people,” maybe they’re different people but that’s something that I love.
CHM: I was talking to one of Paul McCartney’s guitarist recently who recently put a single out and something he mentioned was how music promotion has changed. In the old days, there were 45” singles, now everything is about pre-saving songs and albums. For you, a younger artist, what’s music promotion like for a younger audience? What’s the social media factor?
Island: I mean, definitely man, I wish it was the seventies in a way, like, it’s kind of horrible, but it’s not bad. I think you can connect with people more, but people don’t understand what really goes into doing social media as an artist.
I actually work in social media as well, I’ve had like a 10+ year career [and] I work for like big brands, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s [and] Lyft. I still consult and work in that field because it’s allowed me to work remotely like be able to say “no” to opportunities in music and kind of just keep that protected.
But social [media]l is just very interesting. You don’t just post one TikTok video and go viral overnight; you have to tell your fans what you’re up to and deal with the algorithm and kind of a necessary evil that you either get with, or just kind of get destroyed by. And I’m learning that now with Folkstar and just working with the team and [how they’re] kind of encouraging me. The cool thing is, my fans and the people out there like my story and it’s okay for me to be me and I’m learning how to tailor that into who I really am as a person.
American Idol kind of had like a sliver [of that] and it was kind of scary when all happened because it was like, “Oh my gosh, I have to be this person all the time,” and it’s like, “No, there’s more to me,” and I think people like that other part as well.
CHM: Really quick, what’s the story with American Idol?
Island: [On American] Idol, just like the Mayor [Instagram handle], all that stuff was real. Like my friends [and I], we had a crazy night out. I played in a bunch of indie rock bands and they changed my Instagram to @nashvillemayor. I kept it [and] people started calling me Mr. Island. I moved to Nashville for a Paramore concert after college and never left. [I] moved like 10, 15 times my first year, like it was kind of nutty. I didn’t know anybody, I just did it and I was living in a living room with another person in the living room as well. And I built a little house out of PVC pipes and moving tarps and I sent my friend a picture and she was like, “You’re kind of like Eddie island there — it’s like your little world,” and I was like, “That’s the name?” And so I mentioned it to a few people and then it kind of grew and that was just what I kind of became. So I think the thing with [American] Idol is really awesome, but for me, there’s a very big difference between music fans and reality TV show fans, and there was a lot of crossover into the reality TV aspect, which I was happy that I had the promotion and that it happened, but I definitely didn’t enjoy meeting those people — not in a negative way — but they’re just like, “Oh, are you dating anyone? What’s your name again? I don’t care, are you famous? Here’s a picture” and it’s like, “Do you even know what I do? Do you like music?” And where I’m at now is that people come up and they’re like, “Oh, I play guitar” or “I like your song,” it’s so life-giving and I love it. I had to kind of throw the brakes on and pivot because I don’t want to be Snooki.
CHM: Well, I play guitar and I like your music [laughs]. But I do want to ask you about interactions with fans because you have a big following. Have you had any crazy fan interactions through social media?
Island: I mean, it was hard for me to kind of grasp. I don’t think anyone really understands what it’s like to do something like this unless you’ve done it. I was going to free artist counseling in Nashville and the guy was like, “The most traumatic way to get into music industry is [to] do something like American idol — it’s just overnight exposure.” Everyone I’ve ever met in my life [has] tried to DM me or reach out which is cool, but it’s very overwhelming. I was at a really cool Chinese restaurant — I think it [was] Lucky Bamboo — [and there was a bunch of indie rock shows there. It was so cool space prom but we rented out the back and we had [American Idol] on the screen and I went to the bathroom and came back and went from 2,000 to 30,000 followers and my phone was like shaking and exploded, basically, and there were like hundreds of thousands of DMs that I didn’t even receive that. Sometimes I still get [them] years later, like my phone will just randomly send them to me. I think the one thing people don’t understand is I cannot physically see all the messages they’re sending me. I don’t know if I followed you back or didn’t follow you or whatever and like me following you doesn’t mean I don’t care, it’s just [that] it becomes a whole different thing than what people are used to with social media, it’s more of a business.
I have to protect myself and all relationships — now I have to see if there are motives. It was a hard transition just because everyone was talking to me and being nice, but then a lot of them always had another motive and I had to kind of go through a few relationships, not even romantically, but just with people and kind of learn like, “Okay, I have to look for X, Y and Z and trust people’s actions, not their words,” and kind of reframe the way that I live as a person to be able to handle it. And I think I’ve stayed the same, which is awesome, but it’s definitely an extremely traumatic, overwhelming experience. It doesn’t have to be like bad trauma, but it’s pretty nuts.
In terms of fan interactions, I had a girl wreck her car once and she took a picture of me and didn’t care [that] the car was totaled — it was crazy. I’ve had people follow me home and take pictures of me at restaurants and, like, it’s okay, it’s part of it, but it’s like full-blown “Biebermania.” I went to the airport to fly out for the live show and like every 10 seconds, someone started screaming and recognized me and started to take a picture of me, which was fine but it was unsafe — I had to like run away. And then I remember going into the bathroom and this guy at the urinal looks over and he is like, “Whoa, it’s you,” and I’m just like, “I can’t get away from this.”
But I think it’s in a good place now. The music’s speaking louder than television, but the television is there and I’m thankful that I did it and I learned a lot and kind of grew — it’s kind of like “artist boot camp” overnight. I’m ready for anything now
CHM: I’m glad to hear that you are able to navigate relationships with people’s motives and whatnot. That’s important in other avenues of life, too, like school.
Island: Exactly. That’s how I made it was going to a private school growing up and then going to a college and doing music there and no one cares and then I played a talent show and everyone’s my friend overnight. And that type of like “campus celebrity” is like the only way that kind of prepped me for like worldwide [stardom].
CHM: What’s the most unique thing that you’ve autographed?
Island: I [sign] a lot of shirts. Really, the most unique things I sign [are] contracts. I’d say it’s scary, like, there’s just like tons of pages. Luckily, I’m off all the [American] Idol contracts, which is kind of nuts. But nothing too crazy yet. I’ve signed people before. [But] I have merch, so I’ll like give them the merch and maybe that’s kind of [how] we’ve avoided weird signings.
CHM: You know, everybody does music for different reasons. Some people are just good at it and just play it. Other people are using it to express themselves or to tell a story. I think you had used the word “storyteller” earlier, but why do you write music?
Island: I write songs because nobody listened in my life. I kind of had to process all these things going on and I was just kind of like this early bloomer, at least emotionally, emotionally less [in] other areas. But I think we’ve leveled out as an adult man. I think music was different for me. My family isn’t really musical, they’re not like unmusical, but like I really would just listen to the oldies in the backseat of the car and sing along with them.
Music kind of like found me throughout my life. My first exposure to it besides like listening to like Elvis’ Christmas [Album] or something with my family was [when] my friend gave me a mix CD. I think it had Weezer, The Killers, Red Hot Chili Peppers and stuff like that. My first album was Hot Fuss and once I bought that, I was like, “What is this whole world of music?” and I got my little LimeWire rolling with my MP3 player and I kind of discovered this whole world of other people like me that felt a lot and then were like creative. And I didn’t even know what HSP, or, highly sensitive people was. Even the concept of being an artist was foreign to me growing up in the suburbs of D.C.; that wasn’t a career option. All we had was Guitar Center.
And then I was late to a meeting with a potential manager in Nashville and he said, “Oh, it’s okay. Artists are always late,” and I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m an artist.” I didn’t even know what that was.
CHM: I do want to get into a couple of specific songs. The first one I’m just curious about is the story behind “Worship Leader” as someone with plenty of experiences — good and bad — in the church.
Island: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, man — it needed to be said, and like, I’m not aiming to do anything. I’m just talking about my life and people really get it and it’s kind of going crazy.
So I went to Cedarville [University], which is a super Baptist school — I almost got kicked out for having a beer sampler the size of a little baby cup, it’s okay — but it was definitely a unique experience. Going there really formulated a lot of my writing during this album; during that time and not have anything else to do except for going to Walmart. [When] it’s snowing all the time, we [would] just sit and listen to the records in the dorm room and write sad songs.
But I wrote “Worship Leader” years later, I think it’s one of the more recent ones, maybe 2020 or 2021, but the concept kind of came from [when] I was in Nashville. I was in Franklin at this really cool coffee shop called Honest Coffee. I used to go there all the time and I knew the owner and basically, this guy ran up to me and he was like, “Oh my gosh, man, how have you been?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is like the big worship leader from my college who was actively working at this megachurch in Texas,” it was so crazy. It was like we had this thing called HeartSong and it was the worship team and you basically got your whole tuition paid for, and you got like a salary to tour and do music at my school. And we had chapel every day and it was crazy and they would play huge worship concerts every day at my school.
So this guy was on the brochures, everyone wanted to be him. And I was like, “Whoa,” [because] he was like fan-ing out over me. We ended up hanging out and like kicking it at my apartment and like one wine glass in or something he was just like, “I wish I was you,” and I was like, “What?” It was just like so nuts and I was talking to him and he was like, “No, dude, like everyone treated you bad and you have stuff to write about and you have all this substance, but everything’s been so good for me — I have nothing to pull from,” and like, “Your writing’s so unbelievable and you’re so gifted.”
And I was like, “Wow, this is really crazy that someone in that world [is] saying that I’m good,” because I felt like I was trash. And I was kind of taught that I was worthless growing up in that whole Christian world. I had something to offer and I was like, “Man, maybe I’m the real worship leader,” and that’s kind of what the song was about.
We ended up cutting a line at the end, but I wrote, “He said ‘I wish I was you,’ I always wished I was him.”
CHM: I went to a Baptist school down in Virginia for my freshman year before transferring and I understand because everybody wanted to be on the worship team. They’re playing in an arena full of 10,000 kids every day. And you mentioned like the Walmart thing, and that made me laugh because that was the big thing at my school; we’d walk over to the big Walmart across the street.
Island: I get it! Everyone always says, “You get it,” [but] it’s like, no, I get it and I have this ability to say these things [not] because I’m trying to say anything, I’m just talking to God really, or like myself to like let this out when I write music.
CHM: Where do you buy your sunglasses? They’re so cool.
Island: Thank you, man — these are prescription. I actually used to work at Warby Parker in the office, doing social media. I love boring; like put me in the boring world because I can make it lit. So I was working there and I bought kind of crazy glasses, I can almost cheer myself up or like do something different — and also blue light blocker — and so I was like, “Man, it’s only like $5 more to make them yellow,” it was some promo I’m like, “I’m gonna just get yellow glasses.” And so I started wearing those around then I would wear them out of the office on lunch breaks and people would react to them — they would either love it or hate it — and I’d kind of know if they were cool or not and it was like this like Truman Show-style, like rebelling against the world feeling that I had, I’m gonna just wear these glasses around because I’m tired of living my life caring what people think.
Really before all of that, when I played my high school talent show, I was so nervous and I wore sunglasses because I couldn’t sing without my eyes being closed. And I started wearing glasses because of Buddy Holly [but people also mentioned] Elton John; I never thought about Elton John once until everyone said I looked like him or whatever, I don’t know.
CHM: Funny you brought up Elton John because you did a cover of “Bennie and the Jets” and nailed that on American Idol.
Island: I think I was a little off because they put me on this lift that Joe Jonas used and I ran the rehearsal and they had no TV screens on the floor — they didn’t have some weird B-roll cut up, [it looked like] I was crying because I was cleaning my glasses, it was just insane. So when the live show happened, it was like, Okay, Ryan Seacrest is here; there’s TVs on the floor; there’s a lift now I’m going down. And when I did the rehearsal, Franklin was Beyonce’s vocal coach, he was my vocal coach, [and] he cried. And he was like, “You’re gonna win the show,” because it was just [a] blowout performance. I’m happy it happened the way it did. I still did good, but it wasn’t like “in the pocket, full sauce,” which I usually do when I play for real.
Thank you though, man. I mean, we ran with it, Elton tweeted to everybody else — he didn’t really support me, I don’t know why, but we blessed it. I still love it. I sang “Bennie and the Jets” at the show on Saturday in Ohio.
CHM: You infuse folk music into your music and I also noticed a brass section in a couple of your songs. I love both of these but I’m curious why you wanted to infuse them into your music.
Island: People don’t understand [that] I have had to put blood, sweat and tears and pay out of pocket for things and like put that extra 10% on my entire career every single time — and the horns are evidence of that. When we were tracking, I was like, “I really want horns on my album,” [but] there was no budget or whatever. So I ended up hiring a kid on Fiverr from Ukraine who didn’t speak English — I translated everything — and I actually wrote the entire album [out] and I also wrote the horns and I recorded myself going like [imitates horn noises] on my phone, I sent that to him and then they played that. And then my friend Ian tuned it and we put that on the record for a demo and they liked it so much that they ended up having the horns recorded on Abbey Road.
CHM: So of all the songs you have on the album, what’s the one that you’re most excited for people to hear?
Island: Man, it’s a tough one because I’ve learned with this album [that] what I like isn’t always what people like. And I do like the whole album a lot, but I’ve learned my taste. Getting out of the way of myself and serving the audience has been a really big lesson, but not changing what I like.
I think for me, “Subway” was the most licensed, which was a shocker, but I’m excited to just see which song is the one. And I know each song is so deep and unique and catchy and amazing. Honestly, I think each one of them is like a time bomb [ready] to explode, I just don’t know which one it’s going to be.
I really like “1974,” that song is one of the weirdest songs I’ve ever written. It’s a kind of a stream of consciousness about a time I lived with a professional BMX writer in Nashville — Corey Martinez
CHM: When playing live, do you prefer the solo act kind of thing, like an Ed Sheeran performance with just a guitar, or do you prefer to have a band there?
Island: You know, man, I like playing with a band, especially when it’s tight [but] I do some songs by myself. Where we’re at now with my music here [on Folkstar] — I’m also in a crazy rock and roll band called Kid Cherry and the Graduates, which is about to be insane. It’s like “modern Nirvana,” [and] people say that, but it actually is. But I think like for me, we have Ezra, who’s like my band leader [and] guitar player, like awesome “ride or die,” he toured with me and John, our sound guy in Ohio at the recent show. I think that was one of the [most] fun formats because I’m able to put the guitar down, sing songs, not have to learn everything and do everything and just focus on the crowd and the performance and then pick up the guitar, have some solo songs and have some songs I’m playing when we’re both playing. I think Travis, my keys player, is going to come along with us for some of the future dates.
That’s my favorite format because it’s easier to tour. There are less people, [so]I can get booked more because they don’t have to have as big of a budget. I honestly really excel in that kind of intimate environment.
CHM: When you do play on a smaller scale — even if it’s just in the section with the songs you play by yourself — are you just playing an acoustic version of the song? Because you have songs seem to have a layered arrangement there, right? So are you stripping those songs down or just playing songs that are meant to be played acoustic?
Island: Yeah, we did every kind of [arrangement], we had like an hour over an hour set list [and] I did “Mantra Chameleon,” which is another song I love, but we either make it into acoustic, or, to be honest, [and] a lot of the songs on Folkstar I would just play by myself.
I’m not changing the record really at all, it’s the same kind of experience, but we do kind of flesh it out and like [on] “Bennie and the Jets,” Ezra role play some of the other parts and the lead lines and things like that. But I think I kind of reimagine the songs in the way that I would just play them anyway and so it all kind of becomes cohesive.
CHM: Do you have any tour dates set? Perhaps on the east coast?
Island: I mean, it’s interesting. It’s one of those Catch-22s where it’s like, I could go on tour with a huge artist right now and kill it. But I’m in this in-between world with American Idol. The big thing I’m excited about is we are going to play this showcase for like the College Bookers Association [National Association for Campus Activities] for schools, so I think that will unlock a bunch of dates. And then I think from there, all the other opportunities that I have that are kind of like, “Yeah, let me know,” will start [to] kind of [become] solidified. But [we’ll] definitely [play] in the Pittsburgh area, Pennsylvania region for sure.
Folkstar is available to stream on digital platforms now.
Ginny & Georgia Composers Lili Haydn and Ben Bromfield Talk About Their ‘Eclectic’ and ‘Sensitive’ Score
Season 2 of ‘Ginny & Georgia’ is streaming on Netflix now.
From the opening scene of the second season of Ginny & Georgia, I was welcomed with an amazing musical score by Lili Haydn and Ben Bromfield. Whilst this show is not generally my cup of tea, the music was just so interesting. How does “Welcome Back Bitches” nail such a modern sound akin to LCD Soundsystem’s “oh baby”? How do they manage to shift between that tone and more of a somber, piano-driven number like “Not a Murderer” or the Americana guitars on “Childs Play (Hunter’s Song)”?
I had the pleasure of speaking to both Lili Haydn and Ben Bromfield about their latest work. We talked all about their fantastic score, but more importantly, we began by talking about cats. Yes, you read that right.
Be sure to check out the second season of Ginny & Georgia on Netflix now, and you can hear Lili Haydn’s latest single, “Woman Life Freedom,” here.
Coastal House Media: I have a sort of fun question for each of you to start. Ben, I’ll start with you, I was looking at your website and I saw a picture of a cat on your website, so I was curious, what’s their name and age?
Ben Bromfield: You know, we have a couple of cats in my family, so that’s Cammy. She’s now, I think 14 or 15. She’s going strong. She’s heavily medicated at this point, but she’s a sweet, happy cat. We’ve got another named Oscar who has rapidly gone from being a kitten to a pretty chunky guy. And then we’ve got our dog Jones, who is the light of my life.
Lili Haydn: [laughs] Well, the fact that you’re showing us pictures of your cats — you’re speaking my language because I am obsessed with my cats and I have the best cat treat in the world. And my kitten is gonna rear her head, and both cats are rapidly approaching. Both of them are circling the den [laughs].
You gotta get your cats this [shows package to the camera] — they’re chicken breast tenders. They’re really good for them and they go crazy for them.
CHM: Since you’re both cat people then can I ask you guys each, what’s your favorite thing about having a cat?
Haydn: Kissing them. Kissing cats is like my favorite thing to do in the world, I think more than anything else, to be honest.
CHM: Even more so than playing the violin?
Haydn: More than anything in the world.
Bromfield: I’m always amazed by how smart they are. There’s this thing called a puzzle box. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that, but it’s more of a dog thing where like you put a treat inside a cardboard box, and then you just leave the dog [to] go for it. And then they rip it apart and it’s fine.
I made one and Oscar just absolutely hijacked it. But my other cat, Cammy, does this thing, and I love old cats because they have so much character at this point, but when you pick her up, she wraps her arms around your neck and we call her a koala-cat and she just sort of like hangs on to you and it’s the sweetest thing. She really is the sweetest cat.
CHM: Aw, that’s adorable. Well, both of you guys have adorable cats. Lily, I was listening to your cover recently of “Kashmir,” I found it on YouTube, and I was just curious cause I know that you also opened for Robert Plant and Jimmy Page a few years back. I don’t know when that was recorded in relevance to that, but did they ever hear your cover of that song, and what were their reactions?
Haydn: I don’t know if Jimmy Page heard it, but Robert said he loved it. And I got their blessing before I did it because they’re real artists. I mean like they’re not just some pop sensation, as you know, and they’re not just legends that have let their golden days pass them by. They’re people that seek out new music that excites them. That’s why they were open to having somebody like me open for them. They really are curious and I wanted to honor the seriousness with which they approached their music when I covered it. So getting their blessing was really important.
CHM: Well, it’s an amazing cover, and you guys are both real artists as well. I don’t know if you guys have worked on any other projects together, but how were you guys paired up for Ginny & Georgia?
Bromfield: I’m gonna start this [and then] I’m gonna throw it to Lily this time. My career in scoring started in a typical way where I was a composer’s assistant before I was a composer, and I got to work on a bunch of shows and I got to know the process really well. And the majority of that work was done for this guy, Tree Adams, who’s a dear friend and mentor — I call him my sensei. Tree is a great TV and film composer, and I [have] worked for him for five years now. He plays with his band sometimes and they were playing a gig [and] I came out to support him and sit in a little bit on keys. Lili was also there because she had her own relationship with Tree.
Haydn: I used to play violin and sing for him a lot, and then I actually reached out to him when I was trying to pitch on a show that I thought that I was right for. But I knew I wouldn’t get taken seriously as a television composer having not done TV before without somebody who was a veteran, so I reached out to him and he was generous enough to say he would pitch with me. We didn’t get that show, but he kept me in mind so that when Ben, who I actually did get to meet and jam with at Tree’s gig, when Ben reached out to Tree for recommendations for a woman composer for this show to pitch, Tree recommended me and then we had remembered that we played together. It all kind of happened very quickly. And I was actually on my way to India for a performance and I was emailing and putting my reel together at the airport, and to this day we still communicate on WhatsApp because most of our initial conversations were done internationally.
So we just threw it together. We had a sense that we would work well together because we had jammed and Tree felt like we would, and we both work on the same platform, same program — Pro Tools — and we pitched and it just came together.
But I have to say [about] our chemistry, you never really know how you’re ultimately gonna work together with somebody in a pressure situation. And it’s just been magical [and] very lucky collaboration because we complement each other’s skillsets. While we’re both very fluid improvisers, and that has allowed us to create some music that neither of us would’ve created on our own.
CHM: Ben, you’ll answer for Lilly and vice versa. What is it about the other person’s style that attracted you to them and what did you think that they brought to the table with this score?
Bromfield: Great question. There’s a lot of things I could say about this, but I will just say [that] this is not the first time I’ve done a co-composer thing with somebody, and I think that in general, one of the things I like about it is that you get to learn from the other person. Now Lili has a very different way of thinking about music to me than me and I feel like I’ve just learned a lot from working with her about that mindset. I’m going to simplify it a bit and call it “quality over quantity,” which is great as somebody who has more experience spending a lot of time on less minutes of music than me because come from having to score and doing so much music so fast. There’s a sense where it’s not that it’s not quality, it’s just that you can’t really focus on anything [for] too long.
So I think from collaborating with Lili, as somebody who has done those deep dives into music, even if we don’t always have time to do that for Ginny & Georgia — because it’s a TV show — I think that I’ve gotten a lot out of that influence from her, which is something that I feel like you either need to find within yourself or you need to get inspired by somebody else.
And just to round that out, I’m now doing for the first time in my career of about 12 years or so, I’m creating music as art or not for score. I’m writing [and] releasing albums and creating music that’s just for people to listen to and I don’t feel like I would be as comfortable doing that now if it wasn’t for the influence of working with somebody who has so much experience doing that.
Haydn: Oh, that’s nice — thanks! I think it’s relevant to just say what our specific backgrounds are. I come from playing classical music as a kid and growing up with that, but I also started making records when I was 20 — and I’ve made a bunch of them. I started scoring and being a part of other people’s teams as a player and singer, so I didn’t have experience in television. But I think that the production skills [of] record making has been [useful], and there’s a melodicism that I come to the table with as a violinist and singer.
But what Ben brings to the table, first of all, just his incredible virtuosity as a player and composer. He’s a really smart problem-solver and also has an incredible work ethic — [he] just knows how to get shit done. And his experience as a consummate composer’s assistant, as a person who just knows how [to] get from A to Z just expertly, and politically, I’ve learned a lot from him in that way in terms of how I approach things more as an artist and I will sometimes speak my mind when it’s not necessarily the best political move [smiles], so I’ve learned to [say] like, “Hey, Ben, are you cool with it if I say ‘x, y [and] z’?” and he’ll say, “Why don’t you just dial that back a little” [laughs].
But just on a musical tip, I think he’s just so fluid. He’s got a can-do attitude so that there’s nothing that can’t be done. And so it’s like the sky’s the limit and we can do anything together. It’s really fun.
Bromfield: I will just say that your “squeaky wheel-ness,” while that maybe at one point I thought was a liability, has also been a good influence on me because now I’m a little bit of a “squeaky-ier wheel.” Sometimes I have a tendency to be a little quiet and let things just go along. Now I’m a little more comfortable just generally asking for stuff, because if people say, no, it’s not the worst thing, and so being a squeaky wheel can be sometimes good, I think, being somebody who just says what they feel. I think I could use a little more of that. And so that’s also been a good influence. Thank you, Lili [laughs].
CHM: I’m gonna put you guys on the spot again — I don’t know who wants to take this first, but I like to ask composers this question because you guys know the work better than anybody, but if you had to describe your score in three or fewer words, what would they be?
Haydn: I’ll start with one word; I don’t wanna do all three, I wanna pick some wisely — quality over quantity [laughs] — eclectic.
Bromfield: I thought of that too — [that’s the] first thing I thought of. I’m trying to think if I can think of another one. Eclectic; see, that one makes it hard because I could say another one, but it only applies to some of the music, right? Is it weird for me to say female? I mean, I think that the female aspect of the show is an important thing in the music as well. Sometimes [it’s] signified by Lilly’s voice, the way we use it in the score. I dunno, it’s hard [laughs].
Haydn: I think about the role of feminism or the female gaze in the show — most of the creative team are women — and they wanted a female composer to be a part of it. I don’t think of myself as a woman composer — although I am on the board of the Alliance for Women Film Composers — but I think that what is relevant about that is that because this show is very much from a woman’s perspective, being a woman, I pick up on subtle emotional threads.
In college, I had an eating disorder [so] I know what that looks like and they’re dropping subtle hints in the show. So there are moments [that] I’m attuned to, certain dramatic moments that I might not be if I hadn’t lived it, and that allows me to have a sensitivity to certain things that allows me to bring a little bit more sensitivity in the music to that moment. I think maybe the word is sensitive as opposed to female. But it’s really about being sensitive to the female gaze.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with that concept of the female gaze, but so much of what we’ve been inundated with in our Western culture has been from a male perspective. So when you get something that’s done from a female perspective, it’s a different lens and they call that the female gaze.
Another word that I’m gonna steal this from Sarah Lampert. I think she once described “Georgia’s Theme,” which is the first or maybe the second track of our Season One soundtrack, is used throughout the show and it’s represented in the season two soundtrack with some sort of remixed versions. Anyway. Sarah once described that piece as sardonic — and I really like that. I don’t know if that applies to all the music, but I think it’s a great word. And I think that there’s a sardonic element to this show that is winking at you a little bit, and I like to think that our music is helping with that and has some of that same quality. So we can say eclectic, sensitive and sardonic.
Bromfield: I like those three.
CHM: There are parts where, to me, your score sounded more modern, like in the first episode — I think it might be even the first time your score comes in — and then there are other times where it’s more of a traditional, orchestral sound. I want to focus on that opening modern track and ask about composing that specific track because to me that sounded so unique.
Haydn: Is that the “Welcome Back Bitches”?
Haydn: Well that’s fun because we often divvy up the work, but there are times when we get in a room and just play and fun things happen. And that [“Welcome Back Bitches”] was one of those instances where we were in the room, playing with keyboards like two kids in a sandbox, really. So I’m glad you like that one.
I think what makes it unique is that we employ a lot of the pop elements of the song licenses that they use because we wanna keep the energy. It’s a modern show, so we need that aesthetic, but we also need to employ the kind of dark, more emotional elements and we also need to employ some of the more traditional scoring techniques. So this [“Welcome Back Bitches”], it’s [a] blend of all those things that turn into this kind of really interesting stew of sorts. And also the way that I use my voice, — without lyrics — I think also lends itself to having a sense of a pop hook without it actually being that, and then it becomes more like an instrument.
So I think it’s the eclecticism that helps it be unique and uniquely suited for this show, which is its own eclectic blend of influences. And what I love about the show and what I’m also really proud of with our score is how with all of its eclecticism, it’s cohesive. It could very easily be a hodgepodge of, okay, and now we’re gonna do this, and now we’re gonna do that, but it really feels cohesive and there really is a sound of show, which to me, doesn’t sound like other shows. even though obviously, we’re not creating in a vacuum and there are obviously other influences. But, to me, it sounds like our show, and the more television and film I consume, the more I can hear when somebody’s borrowing from another.
I don’t know if you know what temp music is, but where they put in a temporary piece of music to sort of mark the spot where they want music. a lot of times in television I know exactly what they temp with because it sounds like that show or that sounds like that, and to hear those elements, it doesn’t come together as cohesively. And I feel really happy about what we’ve created.
Bromfield: It really is like [an] instrumental song — it’s [in] a song form. When we get together, we like to make music like that for the show. You know, we did that one before season two, and then we sent it to them. We wrote it together as a thematic track to be used in season two, and then we all found a place for it together. And I think a lot of the stuff we did in that session was similar — it’s kind of like its own genre of pop music. It’s pop music-influenced and it’s song-influenced, but the fact that it centers around Lili’s voice doing more of “ooh” [vocalizes notes] thing, I think is part of what makes it unique in the pop music world.
CHM: You just mentioned that when you guys jammed together and made that song on keyboards. I know a lot of songs sprout from the keyboard or piano, but were there any unique instruments you guys used throughout this score at all?
Haydn: Actually, the keyboard we used on that song is a fancy new keyboard that I just got — it’s a Hydrosynth, which is a really fun synthesizer. Ben has a lot of great synthesizers and he’s like “Keyboard Guy,” but I had been lusting after this keyboard for a couple of years and somebody had told me like, “You have to get this.” And it has this ribbon controller where you can do this portamento thing; you can slide from really low to really high and it gets that kind of weird, like your stomach is turning inside out kind of vibe, which I love [laughs]. That was the keyboard on this track.
We also incorporate rock and roll stuff. We have some different instruments [I] play a lot of my string instruments and we do a lot of sound design as well. For some of the modern influences we pulled in a programmer friend of mine who works with Kesha and Kanye West and like some big pop artists [because] we wanted to have authentic beats. So we used a couple of those beats in the show.
There’s like an instrument in the upper register that’s sort of going and that’s like [volcalizes]… I forget what it’s called…
Haydn: Ribbon Controller.
Bromfield: Yeah. And then you can also hear it in the piece called “George’s Theme (Dark).” It’s happening with the bass in that one [and] it’s a very cool effect. And each time you get a synthesizer like that, they all have their individual quirks, and that’s one really cool quirk of the Hydrosynth. And other than the fact that the sounds and the effects on it are really cool, the Ribbon Controller is really neat and it’s a fun way to do that — not every synth can do that.
Haydn: It’s modeled after a classic synth from the seventies called the [Yamaha] CS-80, which I had the pleasure of working with on my first album, and then sound design where you’re basically messing [around when] you’re creating sounds, you’re recording yourself doing this kind of stuff and tapping on your face and scratching things.
[In] episode eight, where we did the musical, the episode [is] mostly in the style of the musical, which was sort of classical music-influenced. I got out my violin and started doing all my little classical tricks. But one of the cues was influenced by my cat, actually, who’s not going to meow on cue, unfortunately, but she does meow [on cue] a little bit. She’s kept her little “Pixar kitten meow,” and you can hear that in one of the cues. I just did a little reel on my Instagram if you wanna hear it. It’s on the soundtrack also called “Max and Bracia Backstage” — please check it out.
CHM: Since you both live in LA that makes it a bit easier — I know some co-composers I’ve spoken to were in separate areas of the world, so that made it a little harder — but I was curious what the day-to-day kind of thing looks like. Were you guys always working together or were you guys, you know, separately and then collaborating over Google Drives and stuff like that?
Bromfield: [Are] you familiar with the [concept of a] spotting session? [It’s] the meeting that we have with the showrunners, so when we first watched the show down and we figure out all the cues and we might use this one thing, or this might be a licensed song or whatever, and then we’ll figure out how much music we need to write and what scene.
So from there, Lili and I will typically divide it up and we’ll each take a first pass separately in our own studios. Also, I should mention, we started working on this show right when the pandemic broke out. So season one, we didn’t get together at all—
Haydn: We had one session together!
Bromfield: Before COVID, yeah.
Haydn: It was like pre-COVID and then before our next session, he said, “You know, I don’t think we should be in the same room anymore [laughs]; we probably should isolate.” So, yeah, we only had one session, but that one session was very fruitful.
Bromfield: Yeah, we got our company cue out of that session that gets used all the time and reused all over the score. But yeah, we generally work in different places, but also it’s funny to mention that we work at different times. Lilli is a total night owl, and I’m typically — if things are going right — up at 7:30 trying to work out and then start my day and in bed by like 11 or 12, she’s working all night. And so that sort of signifies our yin and yang-ness that we have. I think with our creative approaches as well.
We didn’t have to do this much with season two. Season one was, I think, a bit more hectic, mostly because of COVID, [and] if we got something that we had to turn around [or] we got notes back at the last minute, she [Lili] probably was gonna be up anyway, so that that kind of works. There’s obviously all sorts of stuff going on in the morning and I’m willing to do that.
So we work in different places, [and] we sometimes work at different times, but we do work on the same pieces of music because we send stuff back and forth to each other. We’re both working in Pro Tools as Lili mentioned, and we’re on Dropbox. We don’t share any videos on Dropbox because we’re all very careful with that. But what we do is we’re sending a Pro Tool testing back and forth, forth, and we’re adding stuff to each other’s cues. Typically, we’ll both try and complete a cue as much as we can on our own and then send it to the other person to add stuff. And then they might send it back. And then a lot of the time with the music before it gets approved, we end up having a live session over Zoom with the creators.
This is a thing that I’m usually driving at this point — it’s usually on my rig. We’re all in on this session and I’m sharing the screen and Lili and I are solving problems in real time. It’s challenging but very fun and we make great music that way.
Haydn: But it would not be possible if Ben weren’t such a rockstar on the technical side of it as well. Without each of our skillset sets, this would not be possible. It’s a unique show to the show’s credit, the show creator Sarah Lampert, has a vision and also Debra [J. Fisher], her partner, both have a vision. But Sarah, in particular, has an exacting nature and she doesn’t stop until she gets exactly what she wants. I have the same exact kind of OCD as her [laughs] — that’s why I step out often because like I don’t stop until I’ve exhausted every possibility and however long it takes.
It can be challenging because we know that we’re not gonna be settling for anything less than something that is magical. And the funny thing is, we’ll be watching — I don’t know if you have this experience, Ben — we watched it, my husband and I, and cues that are you can barely hear, they’re almost subliminal [and] like, yeah, that took us a week.
Bromfield: I can relate to that, sure [smiles].
Haydn: We do wanna just talk about the musical before we all part ways, of course. The musical was really important this season and it’s really kind of a subplot [that is] mirroring and representing character evolution and character development and the relationships that are in the plot.
Ben and I have different backgrounds that allowed us to do that. Ben’s musical theater background and my songwriting background, as a recording artist, and the confluence of that really just lent itself to something that we’re both really proud of.
The second season of Ginny & Georgia is streaming on Netflix.
Florian Zeller Talks The Son and the Interesting Way Hugh Jackman Landed His Part | Interview
Father, Son… Mother? Florian Zeller discusses his new film, ‘The Son.’
In my family, a good metric to measure how good a film was is how quickly me or my dad — the physical media buyers in the family — purchase it when it hits shelves months after its theatrical run. If we liked the film, the time ranges usually vary between immidetly upon release, wait a few months in hopes of Target or Best Buy putting it on sale, or the classic “wait until Black Friday” strategy (if it’s Criterion, we wait until July or November). But as our collections have grown and wallets have emptied, buying new releases — no matter how much we loved them — upon release is a rarity.
The one to buck the trend was The Father, Florian Zeller‘s first film adaptation out of the trilogy of his plays — The Mother, The Father and The Son. While I enjoyed it personally, the film hit way too close to home with my own grandmother who had dementia similar to Anthony Hopkins‘ character. That grandmother was my father’s mother, and despite my own belief that it’d hit even closer to home, he enjoyed it and made an effort to buy it once it went on sale.
All of that is to say, The Father is held in such high regard in my family. The Son will hold a special place in my heart as the casting of Vanessa Kirby was one of the first news pieces I wrote for the first outlet I interned at, so it feels like this film has come full circle for me. That’s why it was such an honor to speak with Zeller ahead of the nationwide release of The Son. I picked his brain on adapting his stageplays for the big screen while also finding out the interesting way Jackman landed his role. Oh, and I finally got clarification on the continuity of Hopkins’ characters in The Father and The Son (which has bothered me since seeing The Son).
Coastal House Media: I just wanted to start by talking about how out of your plays/films that I’ve seen, they’ve talked about such human emotions and situations. For example, The Father was very relatable for me because my grandmother had dementia towards the end of her life and it was hard to watch as a result, but it felt so real. So I was just curious if your plays/films are born out of experiences that are personal to you.
Florian Zeller: I would say yes. I don’t know how it could be something else than personal, but it doesn’t mean that these [are] my stories, you know? It means that [these are] emotions that I’m familiar with — territories that I’m no stranger to. When I did The Father — as you said, it’s about dementia — I knew a bit [about] what it was to go through this kind of process and to be in a position when you want to help someone and you cannot do it because I [was] raised by my grandmother and she got dementia when I was 15 or something. But when I was writing the script, I was not really thinking about her; I was thinking about emotions that I knew, and for The Son [as well].
The Son is about [a] father trying to help his teenage son going through depression. And again, it’s coming from a personal place, but I very quickly realized that so many people are concerned by this kind of situation, so many people have experience as [a] father or as [a] mother, you know when you are in a position where you do not know what to do anymore to help your son or your daughter or anyone else, and it was the reason why I wanted to make a film. I mean, it’s not enough to want to tell your own story to make a film, it’s because you wanna share emotions and you feel like you could be relevant for everyone to share these emotions.
CHM: And from a more technical standpoint, I’m curious about what it’s like for you to get to adapt your plays. Of course, you have more space to work and you can show more than just what you’re limited to on a stage, so do you ever feel like with either The Father and/or The Son that your plays get to be even more realized or explored through that medium?
Zeller: No. Just to shoot a play is not very challenging and it’s not very meaningful, so you have to find a way to find a cinematic language that would add something, you know? And for The Father, the conviction started like that, whereas the idea that [something] on-screen could be done that couldn’t be done on stage. And it was about trying to create this very subjective experience for the audience, to really experience what it could mean to lose your own bearings and as if you were in the main character’s brain, somehow.
And for The Son, I also felt that there was a reason to do it on screen, but it was a completely different strategy and it was not about trying to put you in the main character’s brain. My intention was to tell that story from the parent’s perspective — those who are around someone who is suffering and they do not know [what] to do to help. They have questions that they have no answers [for]. They are trying to open the door to help, but they have no keys, in a way. And because I really wanted for the audience to experience this feeling of being important because I know that there [is] so much shame and so much guilt and so much ignorance on this topic that I really wanted to raise these questions and to open a conversation — and my way to do that was to make that film.
CHM: I haven’t seen the play version of The Son, but I was curious because The Father, the film, felt like a play because most of it takes place in Anthony Hopkins’ character’s apartment whereas The Son jumps a little bit in scale. A lot of it still takes place in Peter [Hugh Jackman]’s apartment, but was this jump in scale similar to the play at all?
Zeller: I mean, it [was a] decision, but every story requires something different. When you started thinking about adapting a play into a film, the first advice you get is always to try to write new scenes outdoors to go as far as possible from the stage and most of the time, it’s probably good advice. But this is not what I did in The Father, because I really wanted to use the set as an abstract lab where you would be lost as an audience.
And if I had written a single scene outdoors, it would’ve broken this convention. So it had nothing to do with theatre, it has to do with cinema [and] the idea of being in an apartment and to use the apartment as a way to tell the story of being lost. And for The Son, I wanted to have something more straightforward, very linear and as simple as possible and try [not] to do a gimmick about that topic (depression) but to try to dare to be very simple in order to reflect my approach, which was to try to face this pain without shying away and also without trying to explain it or without trying to justify it. That’s the difficult and slightly uncomfortable thing about it.
There is no simple explanation about why sometimes you are in pain, and it takes a lot of courage to accept [that] there is no meaning, no justification when you’re going through such a pain [and] you need someone or something to blame for because it’s unfair when you see that it looks so easy for everybody and for you, everything is so difficult.
And in [this] story (The Son), this is divorce. The characters are talking a lot about the divorce and Nicholas [feels as though] this is because my parents got divorced and the father feels so guilty that he feels maybe [it’s] all my fault. But that’s not my perspective. To me, there [are] so many layers, psychological, but also chemical, biological reasons why you can feel in pain. So it was not to try to simplify things to say [that] because of divorce, it could lead to this situation.
It would make no sense, for example, to blame anyone for having a heart issue or stomach issue — and I think it’s the same for mental [health] issues. It makes no sense to blame anyone for experiencing this pain. And the more we could see mental health issues as we see physical issues, meaning without guilt, the more we could help people to go through these kinds of situations.
CHM: You have a lot of established names and a younger actor as well in The Son — can you talk to me about the casting process for this film?
Zeller: Yeah, the casting process started with Anthony Hopkins. We did The Father together and it was such an emotional experience, to do a film together, [that] I really wanted to see him again. Also, just after The Father, there was COVID and so we hadn’t seen each other for two years or something, and so when I finished the script, he was the very first one who read it and he told me, “Okay, I really want to be part of it.”
And I was really happy about it because I do adore him and also, so many people came to me after The Father saying, “Is he okay?” as if he was going through dementia. And I was like, “Yeah, he is. He is in great shape. He’s just an extraordinary actor,” so it was funny for us to do the exact opposite because in The Son he’s so cruel. He is not losing the situation, he’s controlling the situation so well.
And then I’m starting [to] dream about the cast and that’s all I knew about it. It was Anthony involved and that’s it. And I received that letter from Hugh Jackman. This is unconventional, but this is how it happened: He knew the play, The Son, he knew that I was working on the adaptation [and] he knew The Father. And so he wrote this letter to me saying, “If you’re already in conversation with someone, please forget my letter. But if you’re not, I would love to have 10 minutes to let you know why I should be the one to do this part.”
And of course, when you receive this kind of letter, you wanna meet that person because it’s really something special for an actor to be brave and honest enough and humble enough to do this. And when we met, we talked a lot about many things, but it’s not something he said; it’s more something I felt about who he is. The fact that he was not trying to be this actor looking for a part, or he was not detracted by the performance that could be done here, it was just a man, you know? And I felt that he was as a father and as connected to that issue that he knew what it was about. He knew these emotions and that it would be the opportunity for us, through the camera, to allow himself to be himself and to try to reach something that was truthful and honest. And that’s something very difficult to do, I think, for an actor. And I was really impressed during the shooting to see him daring [and] exploring all the time the true emotions that he has in himself. And I think that’s why, in my opinion, his performance is so honest.
CHM: I’m running low on time with you, but this question has been bothering me since I saw the film, so I gotta ask you of all people given that this is your baby. So I had heard that The Son is a “prequel” to The Father, but this confused me with Anthony Hopkins’ characters. I know in The Son he’s in America, but I think in The Father, he’s in England. Can you just explain the continuity to me?
Zeller: To me it’s not a prequel. [They’re] not the same characters. It’s the same actor, but you’re right — One is American [and] one is British, so it’s already different. And what [is] meaningful to me is that to have similar stories that are not [with] the same characters, not the same stories, but somehow they are connected, you know? The themes and something [is] connected in between these stories, and so as a viewer, you have to question the connections, the conversation almost between these pieces, and I like what it brings to the table, meaning that as a viewer you have room to question the meaning of this.
For example, as a viewer, I remember that I really loved this Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, who did the [Three Colours] Red, White and Blue and it’s three different stories. They have nothing to do with each other, but it’s just you trying to understand the layers, the conversations, and that’s it. Nothing more. [They’re] different stories.
CHM: My last question for you is: Are you going to adapt The Mother and would Anthony Hopkins be a part of that?
Zeller: I dunno. I really don’t know [laughs]. We did The Mother in New York, on stage, right with Isabella Huppert, and she’s one of the greatest actresses — I love her very much. But I don’t know. I don’t know yet.
The Son was released for an awards-qualifying limited run on November 25 and will be released nationwide on January 20.
Sarah Booth Talks Three Pines | Interview
If you are a fan of investigative crime dramas, then look no further than Amazon Prime’s latest show Three Pines based upon the books of Louise Penny. We follow Chief Inspector Gamache investigating various cases across this small town in remote Quebec, unraveling Three Pines hidden past.
I sat down with Sarah Booth (Law and Order, Star Trek: Discovery) to talk about her character Yvette Nichol in the series Three Pines and how she became involved within this project as well as a possible teaser as what is to come in the rest of series 1.
Make sure to check out Three Pines streaming now on Amazon Prime with weekly episodes.
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